My sister was 16 when I was born. I consider myself her “starter baby”. This probably explains why she waited a while to have kids.
While no one else might consider 16 years a perfect space between siblings, I highly recommend it. a) She was old enough to be a competent babysitter; b) she was young enough to have the energy to sustain an infant; and c) I was a brilliant form of birth control.
My sister Marsha, whose birthday happens to be today, is not my only sister. I have two more wonderful sisters, Deanna and Darla. Deanna was 17 when I was born, Darla was 10. (Imagine the disappointment of my parents when they discovered on the day of my birth that this rather late in life surprise was yet another girl.) Deanna had a sweet beau that was about to sweep her away from the family (he’s still hanging around 44 years later…) and Darla, well, Darla was 10. I stole her decade. She’s barely forgiven me.
Left-handed Marsha taught me to tie my shoes, which is probably why I still tie them “backwards”. I also wear my watch on my right hand, like a leftie. My love of reading had to have come from the literarily voracious Marsha, as the only thing my mother encouraged me to read was a King James version of the Holy Bible…not exactly in my Lexile range.
Marsha played games with me, probably in an attempt to distract me from my tendency to run amok and climb things. One particular game we played was to playfully re-enact the “How About a Nice Hawaiian Punch” commercial.
This was a mistake. If there was a photo of my sister with the bloody nose that ensued, I would insert it here. But there isn’t.
Around 1971, I began calling my sister Marsha Green Jeans, presumably when I learned her middle name was Jean. Probably not because she looked like this guy, from Captain Kangaroo:
She did not.
A more accurate photo of how I saw my sister is this:
Marsha was the only woman I knew personally who had a secondary education and a job. She boldly bucked our familial tradition and became a Career Woman. Each time I saw Mary Tyler Moore on television, I saw my sister. At age 4, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that Marsha did all day, but I was pretty sure it involved throwing a hat into the air.
Marsha was, and still is, different than the rest of our family in many ways. Not that my other sisters aren’t beautiful – they are, and they have managed to defy age, somehow – but Marsha has always been one of those women who would look great wearing a sack at 6:00 am. She inherited dark hair and dark eyes from some exotic gene that the rest of us somehow missed. She was born organized, I’m sure with the ability to sort her own baby clothes by color and season. Her depth of knowledge in the area of tax law has made her indispensable at her law firm, whereas the rest of us struggle to understand the instructions on how to set our microwave clocks. Questions have arisen to the legitimacy of her birth – Deanna was only 14 months old when Marsha arrived, too young to say whether our mother actually gave birth to her, or if she was left on the doorstep by some exotic looking, intelligent, organized couple.
I remember a day when I was five, shortly after Marsha had gotten married and moved out, when I found a black and white 5×7 photo of her in her wedding dress. I took the photo to my room and cried. I had lost my best friend. My Marsha Green Jeans was gone. Sure, I would still see her when she visited, and I would even go to stay with her, but she wasn’t all mine anymore. She had left me in the sister-hands of the sibling who locked me out during slumber parties and wouldn’t let me touch her stuff.
Although my mother was, and is, a great mother, there were times that the age gap between us prevented certain connections. Marsha has stepped in throughout my life to provide those connections. She modeled the ability to further my education and to balance a career and motherhood. She even bought my first business suit for me when I decided to go back to work after having kids. She gave me relationship advice when I needed it most (“It’s time for you to get engaged.” Subsequently, “Let’s get you divorced.”) She held me up when my first marriage ended by taking the wheel for me – landing me a great job and finding a place for me to live. She kept me focused when, as a single mom, I struggled to finish my bachelor’s degree. And when I crossed the stage to receive my diploma, my sister – my Marsha Green Jeans, my Mary Richards – was there. Marsha has now taken on the role of our mother’s Health Care Representative, and has been the backbone of her care (as well as the emotional care of our father), all while raising two very successful children and becoming a super-hero to her grandchildren.
I owe my sister much more than a Happy Birthday today. I owe her a debt of gratitude for her moral and spiritual guidance, her patience, her organizational skills, her wealth of knowledge, and probably at least $40 in lunches she has paid for. There’s no way I could repay her, but I figured I could start with a blog piece and lunch at the Mexican place when she can finally take a break from being completely amazing.